On a sunny Saturday afternoon earlier this month, down the 401 in Windsor, Western kicker Lirim Hajrullahu cemented himself as the Mustangs’ all-time points leader with a 17-point performance against the Lancers in a 51-23 Western win.
The fifth-year senior’s 33-yard field goal in the dying seconds of the second quarter, put him at 402 points for his career. That number is tops in Mustangs’ history, surpassing Frank Jagas (1990-94), and only eight points behind all-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) leader Neil Lumsden, a London native who amassed 410 points in the early 1970s with the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Hajrullahu, who leads the Mustangs this season with 98 points, also holds the Mustangs all-time record for most career field goals with 72.
As he prepares for the last regular season game of his career, and, potentially, a new CIS record, Western News reporter Paul Mayne sat down and chatted with the 23-year-old Kinesiology student prior to the Mustangs taking on the York Lions this Saturday at TD Stadium.
* * *
Western News: You have already solidified your name in Western Mustangs history for scoring and field goals. Now you’re on the doorstep as potentially the all-time CIS leading scorer. Have you given yourself the opportunity to step back and say ‘wow,’ or will that opportunity come in time?
Lirim Hajrullahu: Honestly, it hasn’t kicked in, but maybe it’s because both myself and our team have bigger and better goals that we aspire to and there is no time for us to sit back and relax. When everything is said and done, I think the only way I will be measured among the greats is by winning a national championship, as did Frank Jagas in his final year.
WN: As a fifth-year senior, you have a lot of experience under your belt. How has that growth process been over those years? Do we see a different player out there today than we did in 2009?
LH: I have been very fortunate here at Western with the opportunities I have experienced. I was able to be jelled into the program from my first year and it has led me to get a wealth of experience. I do see myself as a different player because, as a senior, I have moved into a leading role on and off the field. However, personally, my physical strength has definitely improved over the years. And mentally, I have seen the biggest improvement as a player from previous years.
WN: While some folks may think a fifth-year doesn’t get nervous before a game anymore, I imagine there will be a few butterflies churning before this Saturday’s game against York, with what may unfold. How will you focus?
LH: I hope not (butterflies) because my goal is to kick every kick the same, and that has always has been my plan. So far, it has worked out pretty well. Treating each kick the same has brought me to this point and that’s how I will get over it if I were to have any butterflies.
WN: Can we expect to see any intricate and choreographed celebration, if and when you attain the CIS record? A great spotlight for the unsung hero on the football field – the kicker?
LH: (Laughing.) I don’t think so. It’ll be a great accomplishment, but what our team is doing is a bigger accomplishment. I hope this can inspire other kickers, but football is a team sport and I have been a part of some great teams that have given me this opportunity to be at this point in my career.
WN: As your CIS career nears an end, how memorable were these years with the Mustangs?
LH: I have been very fortunate to be a part of so many great teams here with Coach Marshall and these years mean so much to me as I have grown tremendously not only as a player but, most importantly, as a person. I am really excited to see what the next page has to offer for our team.
WN: Like it or not, the name Lirim Hajrullahu and Western Mustangs football will become synonymous from here on in. Is it kind of weird for you, or pretty cool, to be referred to as a ‘Western football great?
LH: It’s a great honour because there has been so many great players, especially in the last decade, who have accomplished so much for Western. To be mentioned in the same conversation as Jagas, (Rob) Pikula, (Derek) Schiavone and (Darryl) Wheeler is humbling.
WN: So what lies ahead for Lirim Hajrullahu, beyond this Saturday’s game?
LH: Winning a national championship, finishing my master’s degree, and beginning a professional career as a kicker would be a dream – and a dream that I will be aspiring and working to make a reality.